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In search of light-heartedness

The bells, the paint, the studio cats who complain at the rain.  The reflective work, the promotional, the inquiring work, the rehearsals, the gigs, the scheduling work, the self nourishment which since November 9 has increasingly been – hard work.

The grim manifestation of positive, hopeful, pro-active paintings, songs and video as I emerge slow and stiff from the flatline shock of the US election and its results.

I trudge.  Plod, sink.  Grind my teeth and trudge on.

img_1460

Never has the political felt more personal to me.  We grieve like Sisyphus watching the boulder he pushed up the mountain for one hundred thousand years slide from his grip to roll away and down. It’ll be back at the bottom in mere months, picking up momentum as it goes.  He knows he must go after it, push it up again…

The reality of that election, what it means personally and for the world I love has me on the edge of melt-down, all the time.  I grit my teeth and trudge, propelled by clean rage – the only engine still running.

studio-bells

Never have I felt so urgent a need to think differently.  To find a clearer way to do my job – making/sharing art and music, being human.

Jack Dixon, American author, ‘The Pict’ (2007), The Barn:Memoir of a Family During the Nazi Occupation of Holland in 1940-1945′ (2014), and many more, wrote this:  

If you focus on results, you will never change.  If you focus on change, you will get results.

Toni Morrison, American Editor, Writer, Playwright, Literary Critic, ‘The Bluest Eye,’ ‘Song of Solomon,’ ‘Beloved”,’A Mercy.’ (and many more), wrote this:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work.There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear.  We speak, we write, we do language.  That’s how civilizations heal.

I know from experience that the rage engine, however clean, burns out and in the end costs me months or years of positive energy.  The joy engine, the hope and the laughter engines go farther with a far gentler toll. Kindness, love, generosity – these are the best engines of all, and I/we will need them in the months and years ahead.  So I search for the means to re-start them, to maintain and fuel them.

redblind

I’m making gatherings, since this is a thing we do together, repair and maintenance of joy and friendship.

  1. Studio tour here (live music, art, functional art, books, honey and a beautiful retrospective show of my dad’s paintings).  10am to 4pm, Circle Bar Art Factory, 1190 2nd Avenue East.  Write to me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/205689303185216/), or at keirartworks@gmail.com for more information.
  2. Random Act of Christmas Music with the Cello Choir, at Frog Pond Cafe, 11am – 12:30pm, Saturday December 10.  We will play and bring lyrics for those who want to sing.  Highly recommended.  fb link:  https://www.facebook.com/events/209666356146246/
  3. Get your Wassail On!, at Heartwood Hall, Solstice night, 7pm Wednesday December 21.  We’ll bring a string orchestra, lyrics and good cheer, others will bring poems, songs, stories, and good cheer, you can come and bring your voice …and good cheer, in celebration of human beings everywhere as well as here.  fb link:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1721170268210795/

if you’re not on facebook, write to me at keirartworks@gmail.com for more information.  I would love to tell you more.

See you there, in person or in spirit.  All my love to you, truly.

Keira

 

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I feel change

It’s a mouth-taste, odd.  Also pit of my stomach when I notice I’ve casually ‘turned over a stone’ and uncovered memories from 13 years ago.  Remembering I ran away then, wondering at the grand plan that overrode those better instincts and pinned me like a specimen inside a story that wasn’t mine. For a decade.

Print of the Music Room at Haddon Hall, Darbyshire.

Print of the Music Room at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire.

I understand I’m being triggered by recent events that have little to do with me.  It’s fascinating – I feel my pulse change as old traumas rise to the surface, still stinking like dead fish.

In three years I’ve healed enough to function well at a steady pace, to build new systems that will I hope benefit many, articulate plans well enough to go hunt them with proposals, maintain full-time work and a part-time Masters study.  But these rememberings are embedded deeper than surface function.

I’m shocked, ten years on, by the detail of my recall.

 

stgeorgestreetsigns

This is happening now because I’m painting again, in preparation for the December 3 Studio Tour.  There is no way around it – the visual art work always takes me down and in.  The paintings are a by-product.

Nov 2 Bridge to CM Masters

Nov 2 Bridge to CM Masters

Standing Rock #NoDAPL,which on facebook is getting twenty to thirty times the coverage of the US election, world-wide.  It’s not just the pit of my stomach that knows this is a game-changer.  Idle No More, indeed.

I seek to understand my own ancestors, and the ways and means I can forgive them – industrialists, colonials all – for the damage they wrought here.  I am part of that history – that long awful story of dominance, abuse and neglect.

bridgenov2_2

My belly is telling me change is here.  It’s time for a new story.


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Value

What an intense beginning to October it has been.  It feels like I’ve been birth canal-ed – squeezed into a ‘passage through’ from that September of structural change (schedule, mental, energetic) into this October of ‘Now, GROW’.  This is the first morning of stillness after a massive storm of People and Events and I find myself looking around in wonder, like a newborn.

bridge on the way to my weekly class at Laurier

Bridge on the way to my weekly class at Laurier.  Like a birth canal, save that I come back through it every week at midnight.  Always an odd sensation.

I played back-to-back gigs in three completely different genres from Friday until Sunday at 2pm – the fallout from those rehearsals is over there…

Oh yes, and Friday was also my birthday. Why the roses...

Oh yes, and Friday was also my birthday. Why the roses…

I threw my old loveseat in a dumpster on Saturday too – the old pullout that didn’t pull out was my bed for the year after my marriage ended in 2013 and despite its’ size and brokenness, the ragged sides ravaged by cats and the seat pillows I never did finish reupholstering, I loved it dearly.  We pushed it over the edge and it opened one last time to say goodbye.  I whispered thank you for holding me before we drove away.  The tears that came then (and now, I’ll admit) are proof of my exhaustion.  Change.  Sigh.

Plaid. High back, which makes me feel short. Longer by two feet. hmmm.

Plaid. High back, which makes me feel short. Longer by two feet.

This new old couch has good pedigree (people very very dear to me have sat and slept here) and I have high hopes for it’s eventual ‘rightness’ in this space, though it still feels awkward. The studio cats have shunned it, so far.

I suspect it will grow in usefulness as I settle in to the habit of reading books, annotating books, blogging about books and commenting on the blogs of classmates.  This is how doing a Masters in Community Music translates into daily life. Ha – even as I write I know that’s not even the half of it.  This masters pervades all levels of now – how can it not, when books entitled Music and Mind in Daily Life (Clarke/Dibbin/Pitts, 2010) are on the week’s menu?  Every class from 7 until 10 pm) we talk about what is meaningful and authentic. How this changes when music becomes a commercialized product.  What does it feel like, to share musical space, to tell true musical stories that resonate and mix across personal and political cultures.  How music is so naturally inclusive, yet so easily distorted by projections of class, identity and politics.  How Music changes things, always.

Books like food. Masters is like eating and eating when you know you are already full. An exercise in stamina...

Books like food. Masters is like eating and eating when you know you are already full. An exercise in stamina…

I have not found ‘normal’ yet.  In the openness of this morning I look at my weeks and think, something has got to go.  There’s not enough room, currently, for the things I need to do, for the books I need to read.

And yet this is a stage in any valuable long-term project that I recognize, and relish – a good exercise in using emotional intelligence to understand what’s going to be supportive, gain me greater clarity, sharper focus.

And what is not.

chair_floor_studio

I’ve added things.  Cello lessons every other week (we are changing my right thumb position, working on my bowing, and fine-tuning my ears).  New cello students.  A string ensemble gathering every other week.  Learning lead vocals on two songs – one gaelic, one by Robbie Burns, for a mini-tour in Toronto in 2 weeks.  A drawing class for people who think they can’t in November, functional art making, and visual art making for a Studio Tour in December (this is how I will PAY for the masters – I have commissions and buyers, but so far no time to do the work).  Christmas mini-tour with my favourite musical collaborators.  Regular family visits.  Good, slow time with my dear and significant other.  Time spent listening and laughing with old and new friends.

It’s a lot, yes.  Doable if I practise smart self-care.  If I can find and work from a new lightness of being.

There is is.  I know what I need to let go of.  All the old heavy I carry that’s not mine.  Stories that are long over but still stuck in a run-on sentence.  Time to close those old books, and burn them.

Ah, that crazy beautiful bridge.

crazy beautiful bridge.


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Colour Pages #1: Yellow

I’ve been ill and intensely insomnia’d recently – slowed down enough to obligingly revise my to-do lists from twenty things to one – or two if the gods are smiling.  In the in-between times, too tired to sleep or read or write or hold a thought long enough to notice what it is …. I’ve been bored.  This is no small thing and I do not make light of it. According to my upbringing and my deepest inclinations, boredom is a crime of the most serious nature.  A crime AGAINST nature, in fact.  It is absence of life and purpose.

YellowBell_Nov2015psd

This is not the yellow that I see in the original before me. The violet / purple in the background is close, after much calibration in photoshop. Why can’t I get the yellow to read, digitally? what’s up with that?

And so I feel like I’ve been KO’d.  I over-react in a kind of panic by revving my engines when I can find & start them – HUGE waste of precious gasoline.  In those moments, roaring like an worn out F350, I lock myself into an intense but oh-too-brief road-race contemplation of mortality, choice, autonomy, risk, personal truth… and joy, both humbly small and thunderingly huge.  I know full well this is a form of madness.

In the midst of this I ask myself, ‘What do you think?

(Like I’m in sanctuary, on White Cloud Island.)

About Yellow?

(Seeking relief, which it is.)

I’ll call these the Colour Pages.

same photo directly translated into black and white (photoshop CS4).  I did try, in a filter called ‘colour balance’ to remove every colour:  (red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, magenta) and the result was close enough to be the same.  So, where is the black, or the ‘absence of colour’, in this hot yellow I see in the original in front of me?  What are my eyes  – our eyes! – seeing that science and technology does not?

This blog has always been about process – the articulation and the sharing of it, the practise and the primacy of it.  I’ve felt always that finished paintings are but a by-product of what happens on the road from concept to completion. This in no way diminishes the importance of paintings as living, resonant things.  In my experience the finished (by)product will  always ‘sing’ if the practise that leads to it has integrity.   In order for process to have integrity however, I feel that it must be the most challenging, transformational part of art-making.  Not for the faint of heart, if you’re serious and have respect for what you do.

I’ve noticed that my idea of what a ‘professional’ product is has changed – especially over these past two years.  My ear for intonation and tone has as well, musically, which is the same muscle. Turns out it’s a constant refinement of perception.

January 2016

January 2016

Yellow, then.   Hmmm.

Why do I associate yellow with a seeking of Knowledge?

Lemon, pineapple seem obvious but that’s not what I taste.  Why does it instead taste like cumin?

Why does it feel like yellow is not a colour, but a light?  Like the feeling of sunlight in April after a long winter.

Cold yellow feels toxic; I avoid it’s use.  (Curious that this yellow is often called ‘lemon’.  Huh. The manufactured colour is not the same as my experience of lemon, unless you can call a colour ‘sour’.)  Cadmium yellow is a colour I avoid using as well – it feels opaque, obliterating, like heavy, cheap cheesey food – doesn’t work well with others, or my belly. Naples, Windsor, Barium, Turner’s, Chrome… I’ve used all of these but they resist light and do not glow.

A little internet digging (here) offers some history of artists’ eternal inquiry into yellow pigment for use in painting…

Gallstone
Prepared from the gallstone of an ox and gives a reasonably dark yellow. Nicholas Hilliard found it useful for shading with miniature work. John Payne in the 18th century found that dishonest colourmen were selling an inferior substitute. He suggested in his book on miniature-painting that artists should approach slaughter-houses and that the men there should be on the watch for gallstones. In 1801 it was one of the top four most expensive colours, Ackerman’s showing a charge of five shillings a cake.
Gamboge
A native yellow gum from Thailand. A bright transparent golden yellow for glazing or water-colour, it is not a true pigment. It has been in use since medieval times. J Smith in The Art of Painting in Oyl, published in 1701, describes a method for preparing the colour, which usually comes in rough cylinders about 2.5 in (6 cm) in diameter. ‘For a Yellow Gumboge is the best, it is sold at Druggist in Lumps, and the way to make it fit for use, is to make a little hole with a knife in the lump, and put into the hole some water, stir it well with a pencil till the water be either a faint or a deeper Yellow, as your occasion requires, then pour it into a Gally-Pot, and temper up more, till you have enough for your purpose.’ (Pencil here would mean a small, soft, hair brush.)
Geranium Lake
A fugitive pigment made from Eosine that was in vogue during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Van Gogh used it in versions of his Sunflowers. Now obsolete.
Giallorino
A lead yellow pigment likely to have been Naples Yellow. The Florentine painter Cennino Cennini mentions that Giallorino is associated with volcanoes but artificially made. This coincides with Naples yellow, which in Antiquity was collected as natural deposits from Mount Vesuvius, but by Cennini’s time had been synthesised. Another possibility is that the name refers to Lead-Tin Yellow (see below)….

… if you’d like to know more, go to the link here.

March 16, morning.

March 16, morning.

So technical and so familiar a thing for me, this historical context for colour.

For the purposes of this blog it’s infinitely infuriating that I can’t show you how HOT with yellow this painting actually is, right in front of me in my studio.  This is not entirely because of my relatively poor equipment or knowledge of digital colour, either.  I think the translation is not possible – original painting to internet or print.  This both saddens and gladdens me, as a painter.

You’ll just have to believe and imagine a yellow so alive it burns your retina and blots out all other colour.  A threshold yellow, beckoning, compelling, and also repelling.  Nickel Azo yellow, with washes of  ‘Indian’ yellow (good grief, what does That mean?), Mars Yellow, Hansa yellow medium and light….

Later on March 16

Later on March 16, still wet when photographed. Traditional colour theory says that compliments bring out the essence of their opposites – green and red; orange and blue; yellow and purple.  In this painting I want to initiate a different conversation – Azo with Cobalt.  Intense, so far.  We’ll see who else wants to be at table with those two….

More to come.

I’m happy to welcome April sun again, heartened by it as I am every year.

Here’s a tag thought:  perhaps boredom is in fact a place where structure can be set aside so that other, more fluid and enduring, changing things can enter?

Colour pages will continue – like my digital version of Klee’s notebooks, which I long to read in english.  From my familiar painter’s island, these will be a freeform romp through thoughts around the business of and tools for making visual art:  colour, line, form, subject, song, frequency, culture and cultural democracy, transformation.

Chime in, by all means – the process is best if collaborative.  Together we are an ecosystem and nothing happens in isolation.

 

 


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Bill Reid, Through and In

My phone is in Kingston, 200 km of driving sleet and transport trucks ago.

I travel through this with my daughter from my aunt to my niece. There’s a rightness to the timing.

Bill Reid's Orca

Bill Reid’s Orca

In the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau I find a plug upstairs after the cafe closes.  There’s a bench with cushions so I cross my legs and balance the laptop as I would find centre and lift my paddle in a canoe. Then I write, staring at horizon.

There’s a curve in the tail of Bill Reid’s Orca that keeps him suspended in the air, impossible and alive.

My paddle-calloused fingers type,

I intend…

2001- a painting from a show called Sea Hear, in which I tried once again to paint music

a photo of  ‘Play’ from a 2001 show Sea Hear, in which I tried with all my heart to paint music. My daughter, at 5, chose all the imagery for this one, especially the orcas.

Weightless I am, suspended in the air like this massive hunter whale.  Out of my element, on purpose:  I intend.

I am above the Ottawa River which looks drugged into surrender by the ritual, annual, comforting January cold, across from the Parliament buildings where Justin son of Pierre sits with renewed and informed vigour as our head of state.

They built the beautiful, flower-shaped, buttressed library on the river side, away from the possibility of attack.  Those Statesmen, their advisors, their Wives.  Some of them in came and chose and made it so in ways I can respect.

Bell1, 2015, 20" x 24", mixed media (acrylic) on canvas.

Bell1, 2015, 20″ x 24″, mixed media (acrylic) on canvas.

I think about my Scots ancestors who fled here two generations & eight generations ago to look for a horizon they could aim for, for once.  I think about now and La Loche and four people dead like lightning, like an arrow to what we need to see and be accountable for.  I think about Idle No More, about Truth and Reconciliation.

I can barely remember the last specific, technical idea I had about music or painting – these old old ideas are far stronger.

'Black'. 2014, 36x36, acrylic on dyed cotton.

‘Black’. 2014, 36×36, acrylic on dyed cotton.

I intend.

To take the next precious decade of my life to examine and build a good answer to these things I wonder and care about, more every day.

My thinking fingers have written this:

We are all a product of our own small community that overlaps in myriad ways with larger ones like the Internet, like a city, a collective, a field, an orchestra, a band, large or small.  I’ve come to believe over this small span of years that each is an ecosystem that thrives according to the strength of it’s connectedness.

I’ve found also that few connectors are stronger than the making of good music. As a painter who also writes and performs regularly as a vocalist/cellist I have experienced this time and time again: visual art and writing connect us more deeply to ourselves but music connects us, through ourselves, to others. One might say that community music is like mycelium – a connective tissue that can convey a supportive ‘nutrient’ through the system to everyone who requires it….

photo by Robbin McGregor, bee-keeper

photo by Robbin McGregor, bee-keeper

The timing is right.  I will get my Master’s degree at Laurier, in Community Music.

Like the impossibly suspended whale, like a Rebel, I will pay for this with the proceeds from my paintings.  They will be on paper and canvas, in watercolour, ink and oil.  They will sing.

Bent_Tree_close

Find a door you like, one that calls change to you.  Then you go through and in.


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Summon the Artist

The studio is different, this second day of 2016.

It’s taking some time for the subtle but undeniably permanent changes to sink in.  Some can be identified now; the bell paintings I began in December ring at a new frequency – thirty-six hours from now they will finish in a way I hadn’t imagined.  There’s a kind of inner ‘glow’ to them – as though they were still in active process of becoming while I was elsewhere attending to christmas gatherings, encountering and engaging family; playing like someone 5 years old and far wiser with dear dear friends; making and sharing beautiful communal music; solving puzzles; sorting buttons by colour and size; breathing the outside air, forgetting worry.

These bell paintings are more fully themselves – I won’t need to work so hard to bring them home.

Almost impossible to get the yellows right for this photo. The real one is like sunlight - I'm utterly charmed by it.

It’s impossible to get the yellows right in this photo – I’m not a good photographer & certainly don’t understand enough tech to make it right. The actual painting I stare at on the wall is like sunlight.  It puts me into a hammock on a hot summer day that is made bearable by a perfect, sun-quenched breeze.  I can hear honeybees, cicadas, crickets, red-winged blackbirds, the caterpillar beside me, who chews an ash leaf.  A crow comments, occasionally.

There’s more room in here, impossibly.

How…?    I’ve not moved anything out except – oh ya.  The Bell paintings already at the Bean Cellar, and two hanging in living rooms.  Paintings that are finished take up a great deal of space and need to move on to some other wall, somewhere else.  I’d forgotten how strong they were.

Bell_SmSquareGround

None of my camera batteries have juice left.  I find patience, while they recharge and catch up with my curiosity.

step 3

step 5 – I’d give you step 7 but my camera batteries…. What I’m looking at is more like a golden thought than this earlier one.  Somehow the little bells ring inside a warm memory of change from long ago. Every colour is there- golden, rich red, deep violet, spring green, hemlock green, deep aqua loke Georgian Bay.

While I wait for camera batteries I listen, and realize that a new set of materials call to me for the first time in many years.  Paper. Ink. Plaster. Chalk.  – these will be a re-visiting, since that’s where I started long ago.  Pencil crayon, after seeing a drawing at the Durham Art Gallery that stole my heart in December (it now astonishes me in my kitchen, as it did when I unwrapped it at Christmas).

I feel I want to make use of Black for the first time since rejecting it’s place in my work 30 years ago.  It is the absence of colour.

Why black?  Now?  That’s a curious thing.

I follow the call to new media. Like a wise 5-year-old engaging in serious play. Hours go by, and no time at all.

I follow the call to new media. Like a wise 5-year-old engaging in serious play. Hours go by, and no time at all – like a good walk in the forest.

Happy 2016, everyone.  It feels new and full of promise to me.   You too?


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First Snow, November

First snow of the winter, we take a break and make double spirals on the soft wet of the roof, catch fat snowflakes on our faces, delighted again by the magic of change.

Inside, the bells ring on…

This one is becoming about darkness into dawn.  I'm liking the cool into warm and the movement

This one is becoming about darkness into dawn I think. I’m liking the cool into warm.

Metal on bell metal, glass on glass.  These sounds mark our hours, births, weddings, deaths.  They chime at our gatherings when we clink glasses and together bear witness to change.  As Colonials, this is our custom, our culture.

Anyone with heritage that has been touched by Europe and Britain has the sound of church bell embedded in their psyche.  Before sirens we had fire bells, alarm bells, door bells, bells that tolled the hour and the half-hour so the whole community shared an agreement about what time it was, and when they were due in the fields, to the feast, at the mine, at the factory or at Church.

Turns out this one wants to be vertical.  Stormy.

Turns out this one wants to be vertical. Stormy.

While the paint dries, and while I listen for the next thing to be done, I read that the word Bell comes from old Saxon: bellan, to bawl or bellow. The study of bells is called Campanology.  The bells I am painting have origins in early Christianity…

In AD 400, Paulinus of Nola introduced church bells into the Christian Church.[21][22] In AD 604, Pope Sabinianus officially sanctioned their usage.  By the early Middle Ages, church bells became common in Europe.[24] They were first common in northern Europe, reflecting Celtic influence, especially that of Irish missionaries.[24] Before the use of church bells, Greek monasteries would ring a flat metal plate (see semantron) to announce services.[24] The signa and campanae used to announce services before Irish influence may have been flat plates like the semantron rather than bells.[24] The oldest surviving circle of bells in Great Britain is housed in St Lawrence Church, Ipswich.[25] The oldest church bell in the world is one donated by Despot Alexius Slav to the metropolitan church in Melnik, Bulgaria, and dated to 1211-1216. It is now kept at the National Museum of History in Sofia.  (Wikipedia Link Here)

still in progress, but close to finished, this one.  48 x 48 inches, great challenge

still in progress, but close to finished, this one. 48 x 48 inches, great challenge

I am enthralled by these pieces.  Each one speaks differently.  It’s as though I’m learning a language and a history at the same time – Campanology.  This is in part my own history, and the history of this small colonial town.

hmmm.  I wonder what the Ojibway thought when they first heard Owen Sound’s bells.  I can imagine a certain amount of bafflement.

Bell in a soft, sunlit morning breeze.  This one requires a gentler approach...

Bell in a soft, sunlit morning breeze. This one is requiring a gentler approach…

More staring at the latest two.  I’m experimenting with painting six at a time – rotating them as they change.  It’s going well.

Wikipedia continues,

In some liturgical churches, bells are blessed before they are hung.

In the Roman Catholic Church the name Baptism of Bells has been given to the ceremonial blessing of church bells, at least in France, since the eleventh century. It is derived from the washing of the bell with holy water by the bishop, before he anoints it with the oil of the infirm without and with chrism within; a fuming censer is placed under it and the bishop prays that these sacramentals of the Church may, at the sound of the bell, put the demons to flight, protect from storms, and call the faithful to prayer.

…demons to flight.  Protect from storms.  Call to prayer.  I ring the bell I’m using for reference, and the shadows retreat…

This just appeared late last night - tiny bells on a string.  The sound of fairies from my childhood

This just appeared late last night – tiny bells on a string. The sound of fairies from my childhood

Works-in-progress, all of these.  They will be different again at midnight tonight, and again at 9am tomorrow.  These paintings need to be finished in three days, and at least two more begun, so I can hang a full ten at The Bean Cellar.

Time to throw another wash on this last one, then rotate again, strengthen that line & soften the other, listen again. The snow is all gone, but there are puddles on the roof.  In an hour I’ll find someone and go play for a bit, then back to paint.

Bell1, 2015, 20" x 24", mixed media (acrylic) on canvas.  This one's done.

Bell1, 2015, 20″ x 24″, mixed media (acrylic) on canvas. This one’s done.

One last Wiki chewable fact:  Change ringing is the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a series of mathematical patterns called “changes”.

This is precisely what’s happening in my studio right now, metaphorically speaking.